Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Two More Mystery Recommendations

Lately I seem to have hit a winning streak for choosing good mysteries to read. (See the post from last week for the first two in this lucky run.) I just finished New Tricks by David Rosenfelt and Donald Westlake's latest Dortmunder mystery Get Real - both fun, entertaining, quick reads for fans of those authors and fans-to-be. If you are not a fan or a fan-to-be, it's possible you are a humorless-mystery-avoider and there is no hope for you. You can stop reading this post now.
Mr. Rosenfelt who grew up in Paterson, N.J., brings back Paterson attorney and dog lover, Andy Carpenter whose client Waggy is a Bernese Mountain puppy, the center of a doggie custody dispute initially and a murder investigation later. Carpenter's patter with his team of eccentric investigators and hypochondriac legal partner is sharp and sarcastic and the courtroom scenes and prosecutor/defense attorney tactics, as explained by Carpenter, are presented clearly to the laymen and seem plausible. For example, Carpenter hopes for a "Perry Mason" moment to save his case, that is, one where the witness breaks down and confesses everything, but it doesn't happen in the real world, only on TV, he adds.
Recommended for readers who like legal mysteries, love dogs, New Jersey, fast Jersey dialogue, believable characters and satisfying plots. Addie gives it 4 bones out of five.

Mystery author Robert Crais in his L.A. Times review of Get Real, the 14th Dortmunder criminal caper cuts to the chase, so to speak:
'Here's the premise: Reality TV producer Doug Fairkeep of Get Real Productions wants to film Dortmunder and his crew planning and committing a major crime. Fairkeep doesn't care so much what this professional burglary crew does; he just wants them to commit a crime -- preferably a felony -- and he wants to broadcast it on national television as his latest reality show. (Working title: "The Gang's All Here." Canyoudigit?)'

The obvious problem, how not to end up in jail, is one that Dortmunder and his gang work around because the TV show money is too good to pass up. Read Mr. Crais' review for more on Get Real and the late, greatly funny Donald Westlake.
For fans of crime capers, humorous mysteries and the many movies made from Westlake's books, like the Hot Rock.

Visual Thesaurus

To think we used to have to look up vocabulary words in a dictionary and copy the meanings down by hand {rubs eyes and pretends to cry}. Today's fourth graders and word lovers in general now have the Visual Thesaurus, which is a dictionary and thesaurus rolled into one. It's great for finding the word that's on the tip of your tongue, or a better word when you know the one you're thinking of isn't quite right.

Using the vocab grabber, you can copy and paste the text of any document and automatically create word maps for each word found in the text.
If you never understood the pronunciation symbols in the dictionary, and therefore can never remember how to pronounce libel, the audio pronunciation feature in VT is a godsend. And the daily column is always interesting. Today's topic is going as in going rogue and going quant.

To log into Visual Thesaurus, go to the library web site and click on Remote Databases.

Friday, November 20, 2009

On Secret Pseudonyms

While reading a review for Boston Teran's latest book, it occurred to me that authors who don't want to reveal their real name, and yet want you to know that they are already "well-known," drive me crazy. You can't have it both ways.

But I think it's OK if you later plan on telling the world. Donald Westlake originally did this with his pseudonym Samuel Holt. He wanted to see if he could still make it in fiction without his famous name. In an interview with the University of Chicago Press, he explained:

Some years later, I had reached that point known by a lot of writers: What if I were starting now? In this changed market, would I succeed? So I tested the waters the same way Stephen King did with his Richard Bachman novels: throw it out there under cover of darkness, and see what happens. That’s where Samuel Holt came from.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Throw Out Your Diet Books (Unless You Borrowed Them from Us)

If you’ve ever fallen asleep trying to read a book that tells you exactly what to eat and how much of it, complete with diagrams, give one of the following books a try instead.

In Defense of Food
Journalist Michael Pollan points out that we’ve been eating plants for 10,000 years. Sticking with what worked for our ancestors is the genesis of his motto: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” And by food, he means things that have been around since your great-grandparents’ time, not chemicals, additives, food with packaging that declares itself to be healthy, or Tootsie Rolls.

The End of Overeating
Physician and former FDA commissioner David Kessler takes a look at activity in the brain when you eat fat, salt and sugar. In lab experiments, they motivate rats as much as cocaine would. If you already knew this, skip straight to parts 4 and 5, The Theory of Treatment and Food Rehab.

Mindless Eating
Psychologist Brian Wansink explains why we’ve become conditioned to overeat, even when it doesn’t taste that good. Most helpfully, he has some strategies for overcome mindless eating: serve vegetables family-style, but measure the pasta onto plates in the kitchen. Don’t leave unhealthy food in plain sight in the kitchen, and don’t watch commercials at dinner time.

I think all of these authors would recommend that you cook most of your own meals, so if you don’t, you may want to search the BHPL catalog for quick and easy cooking. This will give you a list of the 80 cookbooks BHPL owns that won’t drive you insane.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

H1N1 Vaccinations for Berkeley Heights

Reposted from the Township of Berkeley Heights website:

H1N1 Vaccination Clinic
Monday November 30th
4PM – 8PM
At Columbia Middle School 345 Plainfield Ave. Berkeley Heights
Notice there is no parking onsite until after 3:30 PM.

Open to residents that are;
• Pregnant women
• Household contacts and caregivers for children younger than 6 months of age
• Healthcare and emergency medical services personnel
• All people from 6 months through 24 years of age
• Persons aged 25 through 64 years who have health conditions associated with higher risk of medical complications from influenza.

You should be aware that the clinic lines will be cut or doors closed before 8 PM to allow the clinic to close at the stated time.

We only have inject able vaccine with preservative.

Parents or legal guardian must accompany a minor.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday's Inspiration Board

Some worldly suggestions for the weekend.

Compare photographs of what is considered to be a week's worth of food in 25 different countries in What the World Eats by Peter Menzel.
Consider the point of modern monarchies in On Royalty: a Very Polite Inquiry Into Some Strangely Related Families by Jeremy Paxman.
Find out if your ability to curse in three languages means you're Jubana in Jubana!: the Awkwardly True and Dazzling Adventures of a Jewish Cubana Goddess by Gigi Anders.
Learn how to speak the King's English with the audiobook Acting with an Accent: Standard British.
Read a biographer's biography (Michael Holroyd's Basil Street Blues).
See what happens when every tourist's dream of moving to Ireland comes true, but with 3 teenagers in tow, in Jaywalking with the Irish by David Monagan.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Two Mystery Recommendations

Two mysteries in a row from the towering pile on my bedside table have turned out to be fun, readable, entertaining and above all, finishable. Not all books in the T.P. are finishable; one just never knows when cracking open a book whether it will entertain, educate or bore you to tears. I recommend the following books for fans of light, humorous, "cozy" mysteries.
A Slice of Murder by Chris Cavender in which N.C. pizza parlor owner, Eleanor Swift delivers a pizza only to find the customer dead on the floor of his house. The police consider her a suspect and so she investigates to clear her name, but not before she uncovers a lot of dirty secrets in her little mountain town.

The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson in which a lawyer whose offices are at 221b Baker Street in London receives mail addressed to former fictional tenant, Sherlock Holmes, and by wording of his lease, must answer all correspondence. A twenty year old letter from an eight year old girl in L.A. leads the lawyer and his eccentric brother to the U.S. to solve the mystery of her father's disappearance.

Related websites: Read North Carolina Novels from the UNC Libraries
221B Baker Street
Lesa's Book Critiques

Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb

Being immunized against Oprah's book club picks (in fact, every time she chooses a book, it's practically a guarantee I won't be able to read it until it reappears on the shelf 2 years later), I've never read Wally Lamb. That is, until my best intentions went out the window and I checked out Wally Lamb's recently released Wishin' and Hopin' a couple days ago.

Wishin' and Hopin' reminds me of a teenaged-boy, 1960s version of the movie A Christmas Story (or the book it was based on, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd). Felix Funicello attends 5th grade at a parochial school, where he inadvertently pushes Sister Dymphna over the edge into the loony bin. Their new substitute teacher, Madame Frechette, has big plans for his class' Christmas pageant. Since the Funicellos are distantly related to former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, they have several posters of Annette at the lunch counter they run at the bus station, and her hit "Pineapple Princess" playing in the jukebox. Felix spends his time worrying about things like being eavesdropped on by kids in the confession line, and what people mean by "the birds and the bees."

This is one of my favorite lines from the book, taken from the passage when Felix, as a Junior Midshipman, gets to be in the audience of a local TV show, Ranger Andy:
"Anyone else have a joke?" And I was the only one who raised my hand, so he picked me. "How is a lady like a stove?" I asked . . . When I said the answer, nobody laughed and one of the kids in the Hebrew school row went, "Whoa!"

Wally Lamb has posted several YouTube videos from the 60s to give you a taste for the book on his web site.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Time Management in Libraries: some thoughts on continuing education classes

Anyone who has ever attended Continuing Education (CE) classes knows that sitting in a chilly meeting room, drinking coffee that tastes like styrofoam, while watching a Power Point slide show, which duplicates the handout slide-for-slide, are the order of the day. A popular CE topic is time management. Obviously, time would be better managed if the presenters just put the slide show on their website, but the irony seems to elude the presenters. Regarding the frustrations of CE, we present this letter sent to us by a frazzled librarian somewhere in Libraryland:

'Greetings and Salutations Fellow Librarians,
Inspired by the Regional Symposium on Time Management which I attend annually, I submit the following ideas for your consideration.
Has everyone seen the TV ad for the search engine Bing that shows people madly babbling tidbits of unrelated factoids? The ad appeals to the overwhelmed in all of us. The phrase “information overload” is decades old, but the situation only got worse with the advent of the internet. Time, they say, waits for no man, but what it does do is get cluttered up with too much to do and too much information. Since every malady should have a remedy, here is a plan to solve the problem of how to fully acknowledge the many worthy causes which we just don’t have time for and how to manage other demands on our time and attention. Clearly autumn is overburdened with serious causes and holidays, so I propose that we move several fall events to February which has a dearth of activities, followed closely by the month of March. Using the ever-popular multi-tasking approach, we could even double-up some holidays. For example, Valentine’s Day and Banned Books Week (last week of September) are perfect together. Just think of the possibilities. Give your significant other Lady Chatterley’s Lover or some other racy banned book instead of those fattening chocolates, dying roses and expensive jewelry. Not only will it be a lasting tribute to your love, it may easily outlast your love, as your S.O. may realize what an unromantic cheapskate you are.

Library Card Sign Up Month (September) could coincide with Saint Patrick’s Day. Libraries would set up tables in bars and sign up unsuspecting revelers by intimating that they may win all the green beer they can drink if only they get a library card. You could even have green library cards with scratch and sniff beer smell as a little marketing gimmick. Will those beer-swilling bar patrons become best seller-swilling library patrons? Who cares, your library membership stats will shoot up.
But wait, there’s more! This multi-tasking/ schedule-rearranging approach to the information-glut can also be enhanced by using the web 2.0 mashup time-management tool, which no one really understands, but has something to do with elevating ones anxiety level by simultaneously blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, RSS reader-ing, texting, IM’ing and so on ad nauseum. When I say ad nauseum, take that literally. Take one aspirin and call me in the morning. Not by cell phone. Not email. Not texting. No tweets please. In fact, just take the pill and leave me alone because you can find this Time Management Power Point presentation posted on my website: Marian the Librarian Tells It Like It Is.

Yours in eternal bibliotherapy,

A librarian squished flat on the Information Highway

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hard-boiled Detective Novels

Last month, the Tuesday night book group read Agatha Christie, the premier author of "cozy" or English village mysteries. Across the Atlantic, the mystery took on a very different form: that of the hard-boiled detective story which first appeared in such pulp fiction magazines as the Black Mask whose contributors included Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The tough-guy detective operates in an entirely urban environment, rather than in the cozy village settings of Miss Marple and M. Poirot. Hammett’s Sam Spade and Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and other such gumshoes do not ratiocinate successfully to solve the crimes, but rather they blunder through their books being bopped, “packing heat”, meeting shady dames, drinking too much hootch, with or without a Mickey Finn, and all that hooey. The plots are not as logical as in the British mysteries; the language is colorful, the action violent.
The Tuesday Night Book Group members will each read a book or story by Hammett or Chandler to discuss at the November 10th meeting at 7:30 pm in the Library Meeting Room.
Suggested titles: Hammett’s most famous book was the Maltese Falcon, his best, the Glass Key and his most successful – the Thin Man.
Chandler’s first four Philip Marlowe books were among his best (The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely, The High Window, The Lady in the Lake); his successes were The Big Sleep, The Lady in the Lake and the Long Goodbye.
For a list of the authors’ books in chronological and series order, go to www.fantasticfiction.co.uk
The Black Mask lives on at www.blackmaskmagazine.com with newly published stories by contemporary hard boiled authors like Ed Lynskey and also featuring some archived material.
Recommended contemporary hard-boiled authors are John D. MacDonald (1916 – 1986) who wrote the Travis McGee series and Robert B. Parker (1932 - ) who writes the Spenser series. Parker also wrote two sequels to the Philip Marlowe books called Poodle Springs and Perchance to Dream.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Few Reading Resolutions

There are so many books I want to read (upwards of 50 at last count) that I need some sort of plan to get through them all. This is embarassing to admit, but spending more time reading is not really an option.
So this is my plan:
1) Only check out books on my "to-read" list and books for the book group. No more checking out books on the spur of the moment!
2) Quit reading a book if it isn't as good as I expected.
3) Download some of these books from ListenNJ.com or NetLibrary, or check them out on CD, so I can listen to them on my computer as I do other stuff around the house.

Am I the only person with this problem? I ask because sometimes I see people in the library who don't know what they want to read (a condition that Marian the medical librarian could probably treat).
Clockwise from top left:
The Far Traveler, Trail of Crumbs, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Once a Runner, The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, The Lost, Born to Run, This is Your Brain on Music, The Museum of Innocence, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Mysterious Benedict Society, Atonement, The Madonnas of Leningrad

Harriet and Isabella by Patricia O'Brien

The library book group will meet Friday at 10:30 a.m. to discuss Harriet and Isabella, which is the story of the relationship between half-sisters Harriet Beecher Stowe, an abolitionist and author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Isabella Beecher Hooker, a suffragist. The two sisters' loyalties were divided when their brother Henry Beecher, a famous minister, was tried for adultery in 1875.

Simon and Schuster has discussion questions for Harriet and Isabella. You can see Patricia O'Brien talk about her book here.

It seemed to me that Henry, Harriet and Isabella got upstaged by Victoria Woodhull, one of the minor characters in Harriet and Isabella. Woodhull was the first woman in the U.S. to run for president (before women could even vote), an advocate of free love, and a spiritual medium. She broke the news of Henry's affair in her newspaper Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly (using it to further her case against marriage). I thought Harriet and Isabella was worth reading just for her.

I checked out The Beecher Sisters by Barbara A. White as part of my research for the book group meeting. Some of the things I learned about the Beechers were surprising. For instance, Calvin Stowe had to read Harriet Beecher Stowe's speeches when she toured Britain for Uncle Tom's Cabin because, as a woman, she could not speak in public. The same was true of Catharine Beecher, who had to have her brother Charles read for her in public (p 58, 158).

When Harriet and Isabella met Abraham Lincoln, everything seemed perfectly what you would expect at the White House until they were seated in the President's office in front of an ugly water cooler ("much worse than Eddie is accustomed to feed his chickens from," according to a letter that Isabella wrote). When Harriet told a funny story, Isabella describes Lincoln laughing as "such a shaking -- & wiggling up of his indefinitely long nose I never before beheld" (p 92).

Monday, November 2, 2009

Loving (and Hating) Frank

Loving Frank is a fictionalization of Mamah Borthwick's relationship with the architect Frank Lloyd Wright (written by Nancy Horan). Mamah and Frank met in Oak Park, IL when Mamah and her husband commissioned a prairie-style house from Frank Lloyd Wright. Mamah left her two young children to live with Frank in Europe, and then in Wisconsin, at Taliesen.


Loving Frank was difficult for me to read, because I sympathized with Mamah so much, and yet I despised Frank Lloyd Wright. When he didn't have the money to pay his workers, he told them that they should be honored to have the privilege of working with him, for one thing.

And Loving Frank reminds you that women's lives at the turn of the last century were really hard: women didn't get the right to vote until 1920, and the percentage of women who die in childbirth has declined 99% since the turn of the century.

I would recommend it as long as you don't mind tragic stories of ill-fated lovers. It's not the cheeriest read.